There’s something toxic about television once you want to write about it. It’s almost as if the medium’s shallowness immediately rubs off. You start writing about it, and you almost inevitably produce trite stereotypes or cliches, mirroring most of what you see on TV (pointing that out of course is a stereotype!). I’ve had Simone Lueck’s Cuba TV in my “to review” pile of books for months now, and every time I wanted to get to it the thought of writing about TV gave me the chills. Oh and Cuba, that photographic stereotype of a place. How do you even write about that? Escapes me! (more)
So then: Cuba TV is exactly what you’d expect. Not more, not less: Photographs of TV sets in Cuban homes, either showing some program or not. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, that’s what TV sets do, regardless of where you are. TV still is the one big equalizer where everybody becomes a passive - and if you watch long enough mindless - consumer (at some stage in the future, the internet might replace TV, not quite in the same role, of course).
Lueck’s photographs show Cuban’s doing what we all do, watching TV or having the TV run in the background. There are traces of Cuba throughout the book, maybe a certain colour here or an image of Che on TV there. But just like in our world, the TV set has become part of our environment, which might or might not be kitsched up in various ways.
Places like Cuba have one nasty property. No, it’s not the photo cliche thing. It’s the fact that you can’t even say the word without everybody immediately having an opinion. There are all the things we know such as Castro, Communism (or is it Socialism? do they know?), old cars, sugar, rum, some cool music, palm trees, the US’ embargo. Maybe I’m forgetting something. But there doesn’t appear to be some sort of blank spot where you could sit comfortably and not have an opinion. In that sense, Cuba is like contemporary cable TV: There always is something there, and it’s always the same stuff.
Maybe, if anything, by making that connection (rather implicitly, I admit) Cuba TV does us a little service, reminding us that usually things are a bit more complex. This starts with the fact that people in Cuba are just like us, for instance in their desire to numb the mind using TV. See? I told you earlier, writing about TV only leads to cliches. But still… maybe that would be a good way to start thinking about Cuba.
Cuba TV, photographs by Simone Lueck, essay by Daniel Kraus, 80 pages, Mark Batty Publisher, 2011